Sunday, 9 October 2016

Live Presidential Debate

Ken Bone

Ken Bone Is Closer to Deciding, After Debate

Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathy Shelton in the audience at the presidential debate.© Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathy Shelton in the audience at the presidential debate.
Donald J. Trump demanded on Monday that the Republican co-chairman of the Presidential Commission on Debates step down, intensifying a clash that could precipitate Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the third and final debate in Las Vegas next week.

The move followed an extraordinary backstage confrontation on Sunday night between Mr. Trump’s campaign and the commission co-chairman, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., who blocked Mr. Trump from giving his V.I.P. box seats to a group of women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of making unwanted sexual advances.

The situation de-escalated only after the commission threatened to call security to remove the women if they tried to sit in the box, where they would have been right next to Mr. Clinton and in Hillary Clinton’s line of sight from the stage — a spectacle that Mr. Trump and his top advisers tried to engineer for maximum shock effect just as tens of millions of people would be tuning in from around the world.

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Eventually, the Trump campaign relented.

The episode was the latest in a string of threats, taunts and gamesmanship over the debates from both campaigns. Mr. Trump has complained about the fairness of the debate process, which he argues is rigged against him by the same political insiders and Republican Party establishment figures who tried to deny him the nomination. And during the debate on Sunday, he seemed to open the door to backing out of the next debate by repeatedly accusing the moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News, of giving more time to Mrs. Clinton.

The incident in St. Louis on Sunday night, reported earlier by The Washington Post, rose to the highest levels of the Trump campaign and the debate commission. Moments before the kerfuffle over seating, Mr. Trump and his campaign chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, had surprised reporters by staging an impromptu news conference with the Republican nominee and four women, who have claimed that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton minimized and belittled their claims of sexual misconduct. Among them were Paula Jones, whose sexual harassment lawsuit against Mr. Clinton helped force his impeachment, and Juanita Broaddrick, who has accused the former president of raping her in 1978.

The Trump campaign, which paid for the women to travel to St. Louis, kept the news conference tightly under wraps, going so far as to tell the reporters they took into the room, where Ms. Jones, Ms. Broaddrick and the others were waiting, that they were about to witness Mr. Trump’s debate preparations.

There was little the debate commission could do to stop Mr. Trump and Mr. Bannon’s news conference. But when Mr. Fahrenkopf, a former Republican National Committee chairman, got word that the campaign was going to try to put the women in the Trump V.I.P. box just as the last of the audience members were taking their seats, he objected.

“He said, ‘I will get security and yank them out of there,’” said one Republican with firsthand knowledge of the episode.

From the Trump campaign’s perspective, it was utilizing its four seats in the V.I.P. box as it should. But Mr. Fahrenkopf insisted that the agreement with the commission and the two campaigns allowed only family members in those seats. The commission denied the Clintons’ request that Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri be seated in their box.

Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, said in an interview with CBS News on Monday morning that she still did not understand why Mr. Fahrenkopf would not allow the women to be seated where Mr. Trump wanted them.

“I was surprised that they thwarted that, only because it did not say family box, it said V.I.P. box,” Ms. Conway said. “These women want to be heard.”

Before the first debate at Hofstra University on Long Island last month, the Clinton and Trump campaigns bickered over their guests. Mrs. Clinton’s aides invited Mark Cuban, the reality TV entrepreneur and frequent Trump antagonist, and said he would be sitting in the front row.

Mr. Trump, never one to be upstaged in creating a flamboyant diversion, threatened to invite another woman from Mr. Clinton’s past, Gennifer Flowers, and seat her in the front row. Ms. Flowers, who has said she carried on a long-running affair with the former president, did not attend. Mr. Trump, it appeared, let the cooler heads inside his campaign prevail.

But by Sunday night, all bets were off.

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